Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
By Matthew Huntley
July 9, 2012


For the record, I would have preferred Spider-Man 4 over The Amazing Spider-Man. To me, and probably to a lot of fans, the original Spider-Man series (it seems strange to write this given the first film only came out ten years ago) didn’t feel complete. After the unpleasant taste Spider-Man 3 left behind, I was hoping the Sam Raimi-driven franchise would be given a chance to redeem itself.

Unless, of course, that’s where The Amazing Spider-Man comes in, as it does a good but not great job of re-injecting purpose and confidence back into the saga. Perhaps we’re meant to simply move on from the last series and hope this new Spidey can take the beloved hero in a different direction - by putting a new “spin” on things if you will (pun intended).

In terms of broad strokes, The Amazing Spider-Man pretty much adheres to the standard superhero movie template that its predecessors helped lay the groundwork for. In this day and age, when an average of three superhero movies come out every year, it’s nearly impossible not to know the drill: an awkward main character goes through a radical transformation that gives him superpowers; he decides to fight crime and attempts to maintain a secret identity; eventually, he does battle with an equally colorful villain. When it comes to this genre, we’ve been there, done that several times over.

But what sets The Amazing Spider-Man apart are the details in between those broad strokes, which feel less safe and comfortable than, say, Thor, Captain America or The Avengers. Don’t get me wrong; those movies are fun and entertaining, but The Amazing works at being darker, edgier and, in some ways, riskier. It’s never at a loss for ambition and director Marc Webb maintains a constant control over the story, which actually has a thicker plot than most superhero origin schemes. We recognize and appreciate this, even if Webb’s instincts aren’t always right.

Given how popular Spider-Man is in our culture and what we already know from the Raimi films, was it really necessary to retread his origin? The ultimate answer is no, and it would have been bold for the movie to simply brush over this aspect of Spidey’s life so it could get to the real meat of the story faster. The filmmakers could have assumed, for instance, we already know how the socially inept Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), a high school senior from Queens, who’s also a photographer and science geek, obtained his superpowers. But it feels the need to tell us again, albeit in different fashion.

This time around, Peter’s story begins when he finds his deceased father’s old briefcase in the basement of his surrogate parents, his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). He discovers a confidential folder that sparks his curiosity about the work his dad conducted alongside Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at Oscorp. Connors lacks a right arm and has been working tirelessly to splice together different species’ DNA as a means to combat disease and even regrow body tissue.

To learn more, Peter sneaks into Oscorp and enters a lab full of genetically altered spiders, one of which bites him, and thus he begins to develop spider-like powers, including increased strength, coordination, precognition, and sticky hands. His newfound abilities allow him to fend off the bullies at school like Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and work up the nerve to talk to the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). But when tragedy strikes, Peter must re-evaluate his gifts and realizes he can’t just use them for personal gain; he must utilize them to help others. So he constructs a full-body spandex suit, a mask and web shooters on each wrist (this latter detail is new to the movie version of Spider-Man yet faithful to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original comic) and calls himself Spider-Man.

The villain, of course, is Dr. Connors, who injects himself with a serum that causes his body to mutate into a reptile, making him, quite literally, The Lizard, with all appendages intact. He starts to go mad and believes he’d be doing mankind a favor by exposing them to the same serum so that everyone is equal in ability. All this leads to an inevitable climax in which Spider-Man and The Lizard face-off amidst a chaotic cityscape.

Most viewers will know and anticipate all of this going in, and while much of it feels redundant, I did appreciate the raw details that Webb and Garfield infused into Peter Parker’s character. He’s more realized and individualized in this version. He dresses sloppy, is a bit of a slacker and troublemaker, and rides around on a skateboard. He’s also more susceptible to growing pains and angst-driven adolescent outbursts, which Garfield renders naturally.

This type of authenticity is translated into the scenes between Garfield and Stone, whose relationship and chemistry have an underlying truth. These are fine actors and they share some tender scenes together, including one in the high school hallway when Peter asks Gwen out, only in not so many words. When he gets invited to her house for dinner, he gets into a debate with her father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who believes the mysterious Spider-Man that’s been going around the city and hunting criminals is nothing more than a masked vigilante in a unitard.

Once the characters and plot are finally set in motion, which takes up almost half of the movie’s runtime, we start to realize not all of the movie’s scenes gel together seamlessly and there are a few dry spells where the film either runs around in circles or goes off on tangents that don’t quite excite us like they should. Even though the action scenes all look convincing, they lack an essential kinesis and awe to give us a real rush. Perhaps it’s the filmmakers and actors still getting their feet wet, but we’ve every right to expect more.

The Amazing Spider-Man is not a great film, but it is a good one, and certain aspects of it are on the verge of greatness. Just as Sam Raimi proved from Spider-Man to Spider-Man 2, it’s possible this first movie is just laying the groundwork for an even better follow-up. As much as it wanders and is not as superficially entertaining as other superhero movies (it would have benefited from another pass through the editing room and a shorter runtime), I find myself admiring and reflecting on it the more I think about it. Whereas many superhero movies lose their effect with each subsequent viewing, I can imagine this one actually gaining traction. It’s clear Webb wants to give us something we haven’t seen before and our Spidey sense tells us he’s almost there on each and every level. Maybe that’s where the next installment comes in.